Sparkle Schoolhouse
FIFTY Study Page: New Jersey — "Miss Barton’s Free School"

2017-10-24
FIFTY Study Page: New Jersey — "Miss Barton’s Free School"

FIFTY: New Jersy— "Miss Barton’s Free School"

*Each story in the FIFTY collection focuses on a remarkable American from a different state. Below are some recommended topics to inspire further investigation of the history and geography of the state, as well as themes that can support our children's growth and development. *


Clara Barton wanted to teach all children — not just the children from families that could afford to pay her. So when she learned of the “Free School” movement where state and local governments paid for school rather than the individual families, she saw her future. With hard work and perseverance, she was able to create the first Free School in New Jersey — and much to everyone’s surprise, it was a huge success. This victory, however, eventually led to Miss Barton’s removal and sent her on an entirely new trajectory: to form the American Red Cross.

Note: Though this is historical fiction and the characters have been developed to accommodate a story, their attributes and development may be useful as reference points and inspirations.


New Jersey History

  • History of Public Education in America
  • Biography of Clara Barton
  • History of the American Red Cross

New Jerseay Geography

  • Map of Clara Barton’s movement from Massachusetts to New York to New Jersey to Washington DC.

“Miss Barton’s Free School” Study Topics

  • Study of how seeming failures can lead to huge successes

    Topics for Reflection

    From a Child Development Perspective:

    In this story, your child might learn that:

  • Sometimes in spite of the gratitude we feel for our circumstances, the concern we feel for others may inspire us to change our circumstances, as comfortable as they may be. While Clara was glad to be able to provide a service to those who could afford education, her eyes were open to the fact that not everyone was so fortunate. Even as a schoolteacher of children from wealthy families, Clara often wondered about the children left behind—the children from poor working-class families who didn't have the extra money to pay for school. She loved the school she taught in, and she was happy to have a job, but she knew that her real work was somewhere else.

  • With enough creativity and good will, when we come together with like-minded people, we can turn a good idea into a great one through action. Free Schools were created in response to not all children receiving education. It was a new idea that became a revolutionary one because it was implemented. It required teamwork and bravery and Sarah found both.

  • When we do something new, and take a risk, it's OK to start small until we are sure that we are safe and secure. Before committing herself to teaching in the Free Schools, Sara decided to visit her friend to see if the project was one that she could be a part of. Even though Mary Norton saw the Clara was the right person for the job, Clara had to make sure what had what was required to do what was being asked of her here. She had to take small steps to make sure she was up to the task.

  • Be who you are with full confidence and pride. In being yourself now, you allow something to grow in you that the world will need for the future. Clara knew when she was a little girl that she was not comfortable being home helping mothers with their daily chores. She also loved opportunities for hard work. She was more comfortable roughhousing and playing sports in the ways that were more acceptable for boys than for girls. But she was herself. This all translated into her developing just the right courage and skills needed to be a teacher! Had she denied who she was as a little girl, she may not have become a teacher, and in turn she may not have been part of founding the Red Cross. And what a loss for the world that would have been!

  • A really good teacher is one who will intentionally change her way of teaching if her students are showing her that they need something different. While it is true that students also need to accommodate to expectations of the classroom, this does not mean that in doing so that their needs should be dampened. Clara had the skills to accommodate the children who were "rambunctious” and who otherwise might not have been given an opportunity for success in school. At the time Clara taught, school success was reserved for the polite and well behaved.

  • A good teacher is also a patient one, one who holds a high standard of behavior, but also who sees the end goal and helps her children step-by-step to reach it. This is with Clara did when helping to shape her “unruly children” into productive, enthusiastic students.

  • Children crave work that is meaningful. We all want to feel on some level that we have purpose. For this reason giving children chores, real chores, that make a difference to a family or a community helps them feel that they matter and that they are part of the greater Good. In Clara handing a hammer and a saw to her new students, and in having them be part of building the school that they would get to attend, they were part of something real. They built their school with their own hands.
  • It can be hard to trust the way life unfolds for us when we can't control the outcome. But if we trust in the unfolding, a new and perhaps even more “right” way can be shown. Clara returned to work from her bout with laryngitis only to find that she was no longer in charge. After accepting the painful reality, she used her upset and put it toward focus and determination to make change in a positive way. This ultimately had far-reaching consequences for her future and the world. Millions of people have been helped by the Red Cross during times when help is most needed and spirits are lowest. Thank goodness for the good people and a good hearts, and for the strong determination that puts all that goodness in the right place!

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About the Authors

David Sewell McCann

Story Spinner

David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.

Meredith Markow

Sparkle Schoolhouse Head of School

Meredith has been working with adults and children of all ages for the past 25 years as a Waldorf Teacher and Educational Consultant. She received a B.A. with a focus on child development and child psychology from the University of Michigan, in 1984, an M.A. Ed from Washington University in 1987, and her Waldorf Teaching Certificate from the Lehrerausbildung (Teacher Training) in Nurnberg, Germany in 1989. She was certified as a Living Inquiries Facilitator in 2014, and she completed her formal teaching certification with The Enneagram Institute in 2014. Her work in the classroom and with individuals and groups is designed to help people of all ages to drop self-limiting beliefs to live a more joyful and compassionate life.

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